When he attended Princeton during the late sixties and early seventies, Mitch Daniels ’71 was arrested, fined,
(but not jailed) and jailed (for two days) for possessing LSD, some pills, and two shoeboxes full of marijuana. In a Washington Post op-ed published in 1989, Daniels blamed the whole affair on an “unfortunate confluence of [his] wild oats period and America’s libertine apogee,” whatever that means.
This week, Daniels was named president of Purdue University, where no one, ever, smokes marijuana, does drugs, or consumes alcohol underage.
Daniels is uniquely unsuited to head a university. (To take any kind of employment in higher education, really.) In the same op-ed he detailed his collegiate indiscretion, Daniels argued for strict sanctions on users caught with quantities of drugs far smaller than those he himself, at Princeton in 1970, was caught with.
Last year Jacob Sullum, at Reason, detailed the extent to which Daniels escaped a much harsher penalty:
Daniels’ assertion that “justice was served” obscures what a huge break he got. Under current New Jersey law, possessing more than 50 grams (about 1.8 ounces) of marijuana is a felony punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Given the amount of pot Daniels had (enough to fill two shoeboxes), he easily could have been charged with intent to distribute, which under current law triggers a penalty of three to five years (for less than five pounds). And at the time of Daniels’ arrest in May 1970, New Jersey’s marijuana penalties were even more severe. Six months after his arrest, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided a case involving an 18-year-old who was caught with a tiny amount of pot (clearly just for personal use) and got a sentence of two to three years in prison.
The policy content of Daniels’s op-ed doesn’t really do him any favors, either (from ProQuest):
Today, when people are much better informed about drugs, user penalties will have at least as profound an effect on new arrestees as they did on me. Unlike in 1970, no one any longer asserts that drugs are benign. The ignominy and consequences on one’s career of a drug arrest in the 1990s could, in fact, greatly exceed what I experienced so many years ago.
We have tried interdiction. We have tried rehabilitation. We have inundated the schools and airwaves with antidrug information. All these must be elements of the new strategy. But absent a resumption of enforcement against the casual user, we will neither slash the demand that fuels the drug economy nor will we demonstrate to ourselves the seriousness of purpose inherent to any real “war.”
Sullum quotes Paul Waldman, at the American Prospect, who sums up Daniels’s logic nicely:
His logic seems be this: When the police found me with a huge amount of drugs, I was given a slap on the wrist, and I then went on to a productive life. Which shows that kids today who did what I did ought to have to leave school and get chucked in jail with murderers and rapists.
Yes. But Ivy Leaguers have always enjoyed, and now expect, a certain degree of immunity when prosecuted for drug crimes, just as Mitch Daniels did. Take this vivid example, at Dartmouth in 2010:
Brian Shea ’10 pled no contest at the Lebanon District Court on Monday during his hearing for charges related to an incident involving alleged cocaine use at Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity on May 13. At the hearing, Shea was accused of a Class B misdemeanor — a reduction from the original felony charge that prompted Lebanon District Court Judge Albert Cirone to question whether the parties involved in the incident have received special treatment.
“I think we’re treating [Shea] and his cohorts virtually different than we treat everyone else in the Lebanon District Court,” Cirone said in the trial.
Similar examples are legion. In his new position at Purdue, Daniels will have authority over some 40,000 students, and the school’s drug policy that affects them. Does anyone think that Daniels—that anyone under his command—will accept “my wild oats period” as an excuse for violating it?